Costa Rican mammals, part 1 – those similar to our Carolina wildlife neighbors!

While the trip I took this past August to Costa Rica was mainly focused on birding, our guides fortunately were also quite willing to stop and look for mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects – people after my own heart! Here I’ll focus on some of the mammals we saw, starting in this 2-part blog with those that were familiar.

Fellow traveler Nan especially was drawn to the canines we came across – there wasn’t a dog (Canis) that she was unwilling to pet!


And they often were very cute.


As we drove from one destination to another, it was not uncommon to see light-colored cattle (Bos taurus) grazing in fields. It turns out that about 75% of the country’s cattle are found in Guanacaste province (where we started our trip) and that the Brahman breed is the one commonly raised for the meat industry.

I saw mostly cows, but during a visit to southern Costa Rica last year, we also saw a laid-back steer.


There were horses (Equus caballus) grazing in some fields and mountain valleys.

Everywhere we went, there were squirrels scurrying about on the ground, in trees and at feeding stations. The most commonly seen squirrel in the country is the variegated squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides), which varies in color from gray hues to dark brown colors.


This species spends most of its time in trees and does not hoard food.


Their main dietary selection consists of various seeds, although they also eat acorns, fruit and insects.


Another cute rodent is the red-tailed squirrel (Notosciurus granatensis), which is usually found in the cloud forests and wet/humid areas.

Although in some places, people warn against feeding mammals, we saw a red-tailed squirrel enjoying fruit at a restaurant that attracts tourists with its plants that attract hummingbirds.


While we do have wild boars in some mountainous North Carolina counties, as well as feral swine in Eastern coastal areas, we will not see collared peccaries (Pecari tajacu) roaming our forests and woods. They share some characteristics of the pig family but are not classified as pigs.

They are both carnivorous and vegetarian, even eating tulip bulbs, which are poisonous for humans. It’s said they usually ignore humans and that was the case for this peccary, which paid us no mind as it plodded about the gardens in one reserve.


Our final, at least partly familiar, mammal was observed near the restaurant of a hotel where we stayed. We were lucky to see it since these animals are both arboreal and nocturnal. Fellow birder Ylva got a nice photo of the visiting Central American woolly opossum (Caluromys derbianus). Not only is this marsupial a real cutie, it is also a nectar feeder, pollinator and seed disperser so that we got to see a species that fulfills multiple roles in its rain forest habitat.

Next up – the mammals we won’t see in North or South Carolina (yet).

Braeburn Farm is for the birds!

I don’t often get the chance to visit a farm (other than organized farm tours, which are a bit pricey and then might be crowded). Last year, I was invited to one during an annual llama shearing, which was educational. This year, however, I’ve had the chance to visit Braeburn Farm four times so far because the owner and manager have decided to make it a nature reserve as well as a cattle farm. Nick, the land manager, is a birder who is more than willing to share his knowledge with the visitors.

pond I77A6227© Maria de Bruyn res

My first visit to this farmland/nature reserve was in the early spring to see Wilson’s snipes at one of the five ponds. By late June, these birds had moved on but the ponds were now harboring mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferous).

mallard duck I77A7320© Maria de Bruyn res     red-winged blackbird I77A6920© Maria de Bruyn res

belted kingfisher I77A6936© Maria de Bruyn (2)   killdeer I77A6934© Maria de Bruyn res

My quest to see green herons at one pond was unsuccessful, but my 20-minute walk there was accompanied by the non-stop screaming of a red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), who called both from tree tops and the air as she circled overhead.

red-tailed hawk I77A6030© Maria de Bruyn res   red-tailed hawk I77A6044© Maria de Bruyn res

A non-native bird who might greet you as you come down the road near the farm manager’s home is a helmeted guineafowl (Numida meleagris), the sole survivor of a neighbor’s flock. This bird now comes to visit the domestic chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) at Braeburn, perhaps seeking some companionship in addition to the easily available chicken feed.

helmeted guineafowl I77A5648© Maria de Bruyn res    chicken I77A6958© Maria de Bruyn (2)

chicken I77A6949© Maria de Bruyn resThe farm chickens are in a large pen while other chickens run free, including one with a wild hairdo.

A trio of wild turkeys left the woods and entered a field during one of my visits but they were at a considerable distance; still, I could say I had seen them that day! The Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) have often been visible at a distance in the fields, but on my last visit I saw one a bit closer on a fence post, giving me the chance to enjoy its beautiful plumage.


Eastern meadowlark I77A8597© Maria de Bruyn    Eastern meadowlark I77A5898© Maria de Bruyn

Eastern kingbird I77A5683© Maria de Bruyn res


Eastern kingbirds (Tyrannus tyrannus) can be seen in many of the fields and on wires. They take advantage of the ponds to snag dragonfly meals and the dry grasses provide materials for nests.


Eastern kingbird I77A7653© Maria de Bruyn        Eastern kingbird I77A7099© Maria de Bruyn res

They also pose very prettily on the shrubbery!

Eastern kingbird I77A7007© Maria de Bruyn   Eastern kingbird I77A6380© Maria de Bruyn res

grasshopper sparrow I77A7118© Maria de Bruyn res


The grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) are numerous, which was lovely for me as this species was a lifer for me. If you approach on foot, they fly off, but Nick said they are so used to his motorized cart, they stay put as he chugs on by!


grasshopper sparrow I77A6976© Maria de Bruyn res      grasshopper sparrow I77A5738© Maria de Bruyn res

Savannah sparrow I77A8690© Maria de Bruyn res


In the spring, when we had gone to see the snipes, we were lucky to see savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) running about in the grass (I had at first thought we were seeing field mice scurrying about).




orchard oriole I77A7271© Maria de Bruyn resIn June, a pair of orchard orioles (Icterus scpurius) had built a nest in a tree bordering one pond and I was excited to see two babies just days before they fledged. The father was feeding them and brought one baby a large cricket, which seemed to be too large for it swallow easily. Dad tried to help by pushing it down but when I left, the insect was still sticking out of baby’s mouth and its sibling was still hungry, too.

orchard oriole I77A7475© Maria de Bruyn res

orchard oriole I77A7510© Maria de Bruyn    orchard oriole I77A7500© Maria de Bruyn

barn swallow I77A7161© Maria de Bruyn resThe barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) adopted an abandoned barn as their hotel of choice. When I visited in June, the young had just been fledging; they and their parents were circling the barn and resting on fences nearby, showing off their beautiful colors.

In July, a few stragglers remained in nests. Some that had taken the great leap were hanging around outside, even clutching the barn wall.

barn swallow I77A7062© Maria de Bruyn res        barn swallow IMG_4527© Maria de Bruyn

barn swallow I77A7145© Maria de Bruyn res

barn swallow I77A7139© Maria de Bruyn res

Others were enjoying the view on a wire line, together with some purple martins.

barn swallow I77A6990© Maria de Bruyn res

The fence posts and other farm structures offer resting places for various birds, like the Eastern wood peewee (Contopus virens), chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

Eastern wood-peewee I77A6694© Maria de Bruyn res    Eastern wood peewee I77A6675© Maria de Bruyn res

chipping sparrow I77A6665© Maria de Bruyn res   house finch I77A6529© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern bluebird I77A5859© Maria de Bruyn res  Eastern bluebird I77A5847© Maria de Bruyn res

turkey vulture I77A7105© Maria de Bruyn res


The turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) take advantage of the cattle’s well-water stations to get a drink, but then may retire to a tree branch for a bit of sunning. Nick likes them better than the black vultures, who had killed a newborn calf when its mother wasn’t taking care of it.



turkey vulture I77A7107© Maria de Bruyn res    turkey vulture IMG_4469© Maria de Bruyn res

Northern mockingbird I77A7669© Maria de Bruyn res


Other birds, like the Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) and great-crested flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) enjoy the view from the vantage of high branches in trees.


great-crested flycatcher I77A7199© Maria de Bruyn res     great-crested flycatcher I77A7193© Maria de Bruyn res

While the 500-acre farm is mostly advertised in relation to its beef and opportunities to hold events such as receptions there, the farm management is now increasingly promoting it as a place for wildlife observation as well. The biodiversity in birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and plants is wonderful and my next blog will focus on examples of the non-avian wildlife to be seen there. If you’d like to visit the farm, do contact them!

The great escape and the pesky yet enticing squirrel!

Jonahay IMG_7882©Maria de Bruyn resSo, in honor of International Cat Day 2014, a departure from wildlife to celebrate my family cats. My household is currently graced with three feline companions, two males and a female. Jonahay, the senior cat, is 15.5 years old and the only one allowed to go outside now and again. According to my vet, he is the strongest cat and most stubborn cat he has met – it has taken two guys over 6 feet tall to try and hold him down to get a pill into him. In the end, they gave him a shot while he was immobilized.

In his younger years, he would occasionally hunt – not to eat anyJonahay IMG_2930©Maria de Bruyn resthing but to bring interesting, living and moving “toys” inside. Over time, I had to remove birds, a baby rabbit, chipmunks, garter snake and field mouse from inside the house. During that time, only a couple birds and a couple mice did not survive when he clamped down a bit hard to prevent them from getting away or me taking them from him. Now, he will sit in the yard or rest on the front porch rocker with a squirrel or bird two feet away and just cast them a glance. The only creature that will rouse him for a chase is a chipmunk – for some reason, he still finds them too cool to leave alone.

Moasi IMG_3418©Maria de Bruyn resMoasi, my 4-year-old female tortoise shell, and Oginali (Ogi for short), a 4-year-old flamepoint Siamese, are strictly indoor cats. Well, as strict as I can keep it, as you will see further on. Moasi would not mind going outside and has made it outdoors twice but she stayed right by the house. In the house and screened-in back porch, she will hunt mice and insects.

Her fascination with insects has been to her detriment a couple times. Once I took her to the vet because she was foaming at tMoasi IMG_4141©Maria de Bruyn reshe mouth and in obvious distress – she had likely eaten a stink bug, which is not a good thing for cats. About a week ago, she yelped with an open mouth and had some pain; a wasp that had gotten into the porch was gone.

Ogi also has a hunting instinct but his fascination is squirrels. When inside, he will occasionally join Moasi in getting a mouse but his great ambition is to catch a squirrel. He watches quite carefully when I open the back door to go out into the yard and despite my caution, over the years he has managed to escape about 5 times. He fortunately will stay in the yard but will not let me catch him; I just have to be patient and wait for his return.

Ogi IMG_0512©Maria de Bruyn resOgi IMG_0365©Maria de Bruyn res

Once he is outdoors, he will track and stalk the squirrels. They are not very fearsome as they learned that Jonahay will leave them alone. They wait until Ogi nears about two feet, and then either stroll or scamper away, depending on their mood.

Ogi IMG_0441©Maria de Bruyn resOgi IMG_0410©Maria de Bruyn res

The oOgi IMG_2968©Maria de Bruyn resther day, Ogi made another great escape. He hung out by the ground feeding station and stayed put until one deer came too close.

He then began stalking, one squirrel after another. One squirrel began taunting him. The squirrel got up on a fence about three feet above Ogi and waited until he was very near before jumping into a tree.

Eastern gray squirrel IMG_0487©Maria de Bruyn resEastern gray squirrel IMG_0491©Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern gray squirrel IMG_2998©Maria de Bruyn resAt one point, the squirrel got into a crepe myrtle about 3 feet above ground. Ogi approached and was just about to jump up when the squirrel darted down and looked like he was going to smack Ogi with his paw. I sprinted toward the tree and yelled so the squirrel changed direction and went up. Ogi, of course, was quite disappointed. He has come very close to capturing a squirrel during a chase but just missed – to my relief.

After that, the squirrel jumped down and led Ogi on a merry chase through the yard, sometimes stopping until Ogi got a bit close and then continuing to run.


Panting with exhaustion – or excitement – Ogi laid down to rest for a while. After about 90 minutes, he condescended to come back inside. Keeping him an indoor cat will remain a challenge for sure!

Ogi IMG_0461©Maria de Bruyn res

Next blog – Hoppers!